Water to Liberty Hill High School and Liberty Hill Junior High was restored about three hours after the start of school Wednesday, but other city water customers in the area were without water throughout the day after a break in a line late Tuesday night.
The City of Liberty Hill has issued Boil Water Notices to about 40 of its customers, including the Liberty Hill Independent School District, Meridell Achievement Center and Sunny Hill RV Park on State Highway 29. Wednesday afternoon, work crews were awaiting the arrival of representatives from the various utility companies to identify the location of underground cables and other equipment in the area before pipe repairs could be made.
City Manager Manuel De La Rosa told The Independent that water service was restored to the two schools and Meridell Achievement Center about 11 a.m. Wednesday, but some customers were still without water. He said a leak was discovered about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday in a city water line that runs along a creek bed on the north side of the highway. Recent heavy rainfall and standing water made it difficult to pinpoint the exact location of the leak during the night, so work crews returned this morning, he said.
“With all the rain we’ve been having, we don’t know if it (the break) was the result of the ground shifting or whether the pipe was exposed. We turned off the water about 11 p.m. (Tuesday),” he said. “We couldn’t do that work in the middle of the night.”
Assistant Superintendent Robert Parks said district administrators learned about 6 a.m. Wednesday that the schools did not have water when the first employee to arrive at the high school — a cafeteria worker — made the discovery and notified the district’s Director of Maintenance. By 7 a.m., district officials were meeting to develop a plan for providing drinking water at both campuses and shuttling students to working restroom facilities.
Parks said water coolers from the Athletic Department were stationed at each campus by 8 a.m. and seven bus drivers were asked to work overtime after their morning bus routes to transport students from the high school and junior high to the football stadium to use the restrooms. Parks said buses logged an additional 80 miles during the three-hour period and the cost of staff overtime was about $120.
He said teachers and staff drove their own vehicles or carpooled to Bill Burden Elementary School to utilize the restroom facilities. Other staff members watched teachers’ classrooms while they were away.
“We were about to get in a jam during the lunch period, but the water suddenly came back on,” Parks said. Students who eat breakfast at school were provided “dry food,” he added.
Parks and Hart told The Independent that it would have been more convenient to have been notified of the leak Tuesday night. However, Hart said he did not think that he would have delayed the start of school as a result.
“This was a temporary thing. If we had known that the water would be off all day, that might have been different,” he said. “Our schools can be zoned separately. They just needed to find the right valve to turn.”
Hart said when water service is interrupted to a school, it is the fire department’s call whether school should be dismissed. He said he met with Interim Chief Mark McAdams of Williamson County Emergency Services District #4 early this morning to discuss the matter.
“First, they tested all the fire hydrants in the area to see how far they would have to go (for water in case of a fire emergency). Then, they dedicated a water storage truck and stationed it closer to the schools,” Hart said.
He said not having water at the school is more of a safety issue rather than a health or convenience issue.
De La Rosa said the City first learned of the leak when staff received a call from Chisholm Trail Special Utility District after 10 p.m. Tuesday. The City of Liberty Hill has been supplementing its water supply with water from CTSUD and has an ongoing agreement for the purchase of water.
“Gauges were going crazy and showed there was possible air in the line. We thought it was their (Chisholm Trail’s) delivery system that wasn’t working,” he said. “But, we were losing a large volume of water to an unknown location.”
De La Rosa said the City has asked Chisholm Trail to “beef up the chlorination process to add disinfectant to the system” as a result of the outage
He said state law requires water utilities to issue a Boil Water Notice when service is interrupted for a significant period of time. The notice warns customers that water for drinking, cooking and ice making should be boiled and cooled prior to consumption. “Water should be brought to a vigorous rolling boil and then boiled for two minutes,” the notice states.
De La Rosa said the Boil Water Notice will remain in effect for three days or until testing shows that the water is free of harmful bacteria. Until that time, water fountains at the schools will not be functional. He said affected customers will be notified again when the water is safe for consumption.